BYU women’s basketball point guard Shaylee Gonzales is back to full speed following a torn ACL in July 2019 and subsequent surgery.
While Gonzales described her nine-month recovery process as “the smoothest physical recovery,” the road back to the court presented unexpected mental and emotional challenges for the redshirt sophomore.
“Throughout the season it’s just really hard to watch and not be able to help your teammates,” Gonzales said. “I had to look at it with a positive attitude and trust that this experience was going to make me better, that sitting and watching my team was going to open up my game more.”
Gonzales starred as a freshman during the 2018-19 campaign, averaging 17 points and over four assists per game. She also racked up awards as the All-Conference First Team point guard, West Coast Conference Newcomer of the Year and the undisputed floor general for the conference champion Cougars.
However, following a charge gone awry during practice on July 15, 2019, Gonzales found herself watching from the sidelines as a spectator.
“Just as an athlete, your worst nightmare is to get injured and sit out, so having basketball taken away from me for a season was incredibly hard,” Gonzalez said. “I had thought that basketball was all that I was, but I was able to learn that I am much more than a basketball player. I never had anything wrong with my mental health before my injury, and it really took a toll on me.”
Mental health among athletes, a subject deserving of much more attention, was well understood by Gonzales’ coaches who were able to comprehend her perspective.
“Imagine something you’ve done your whole life that you love and are good at and then it’s taken away from you,” said assistant coach Melanie Day. “When you are not able to practice or play in games, it’s just so demoralizing to sit there on the sidelines and watch. (Shaylee) sat next to us coaches during the games and you could tell just how frustrated she was because she couldn’t help.”
Day and Gonzales talked often about Gonzales’ mental health and remaining motivated despite the adversity.
“This was no easy surgery… mentally it was very hard for her,” Day said. “She could have easily stopped trying, but this kid is so motivated, she did above and beyond what was asked of her.”
Unsatisfied by idleness, Gonzales found ways to keep herself engaged in practice while “taking it easy” with her knee, including one-on-one dummy defense drills and individuals workouts.
Day credits Gonzales for “doing whatever she could to get back to playing” and for her ability to stay motivated despite the uncertainty of a long term injury.
“I just commend her for that hard work because when you’re working out without a game or anything coming up in the near future, it’s so hard to stay motivated day in and day out, to keep consistent workouts going,” Day said. “I am so impressed with her work ethic and being able to do that.”
Gonzales, who received a medical redshirt for the 2019-20 season, sees the rehabilitation process as an opportunity to “open up” her game and better understand her role as a piece in the team’s puzzle.
“I’ve gotten to learn more from the coaches, hear their input and now I know what they want from me as a player,” Gonzales said. “I’ve been able to learn more about what my teammates can do on the court by evaluating their play and now I know what I can do when I’m back on the court to help them get better.”
The injury comeback has also allowed Gonzales to further reach out to her YouTube audience of over 100,000 subscribers and display some of the challenges facing athletes that go generally unseen in the public eye.
“People really only see us as athletes on a court or a screen playing our game, so they don’t get to see us behind the scenes or see what we’re really like as people,” Gonzales said. “I really love showing everyone the college athlete life. Going through my injury, I feel like I’ve been able to motivate and inspire tons of people and show them how you can come back from an injury and still kill it.”
With her health back in prime condition, expectations are high for Gonzales and the program as a whole, a group that includes All-WCC First Team guard Paisley Johnson and WCC Defensive Player of the Year Sara Hamson back for the 2020-21 campaign.
“My top goal is to have a better season than my freshman year, and we definitely want to win the WCC Tournament again,” Gonzales said. “I just have a really deep drive and high expectations for myself, I know I can do it but that needs to come with hard work.”
Day looks forward to watching her young point guard and the rest of the team reach their potential as they prepare for the 2020-21 season.
“Quite simply, we expect big things of Shaylee. We have a great team, we have a lot of pieces to our puzzle to make a great run into the NCAA Tournament,” Day said. “Shaylee will be one of our leaders on the court, she’ll be pushing the tempo and we’ll hopefully be scoring a lot of points along with good, steady defense.”